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Action on teachers will speak louder than words

TO reverse the decline in Gaelic speakers, the solution is fairly obvious:

more children must learn the language. They cannot do so without Gaelic teachers, but this year only one new Gaelic teacher has been registered, in spite of an advertising campaign run by Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

It does not look good. The Bord say they have had an "excellent" recruitment campaign but on what basis it was excellent, requires explanation - clearly not on the basis of recruiting lots of teachers.

There is a desire across the political spectrum to keep Gaelic alive. The number of Gaelic speakers declined 11% in the 1990s and that focused minds on the need to act. As a consequence, many millions of pounds have been spent in the last decade, not just on Gaelic education but on promoting the language in other ways, such as through broadcasting. Good. That money should be spent but, as with all other public funding, only on the understanding that it will produce results. Otherwise what is the point? At a time when there is such competition for public money, that principle is more important than ever.

None of that is to say it is easy to find teachers who are fluent in Gaelic; it is not. The trouble Highland Council has had finding a fluent speaker to become the head teacher of Inverness's Gaelic medium primary school epitomises the problem. It advertised fruitlessly seven times over a period of years. Only last month, a new head was finally appointed, but he is currently learning Gaelic.

Part of the problem is the shortage of Gaelic speakers overall. There are fewer than 60,000 in Scotland, so to boost teacher numbers it is necessary to look beyond that small pool to those who might want to learn Gaelic. It does not help that speaking a second language is a habit in decline - taking languages after S2 is no longer compulsory and the number pursuing them at Higher is in decline. There has also been a drop in take-up of some university language courses.

Some trainee teachers may feel that to focus on learning Gaelic would be to limit their options and they may fear the current enthusiasm for Gaelic could wane under future governments.

In fact, learning Gaelic should be seen by teachers as adding a string to their bow. Still, it takes a great deal of effort and teachers must believe it is worth it in the long term.

The Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig have tried to address this imaginatively. Last year, it was announced teachers could take a year out to learn Gaelic while keeping their salary. It is presumably too early for that plan to have shown through in Gaelic teacher numbers, but it is important such expensive initiatives do produce results. Next year, the figures must be better.

There are reasons to be cheerful about Gaelic. The 2011 census showed the earlier dramatic decline in Gaelic speakers has almost been halted: there were 58,000 in 2011 compared to 59,000 in 2001. This year, Scotland's third Gaelic medium education school opened, in Edinburgh. If numbers are to be maintained or even increased, though, teachers are essential. Recruiting one a year is simply not good enough.

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